Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Kind of Example are We?--by Linden Malki

The Bible is honest!  People are often surprised at some of the things you find there. In these  days where we are bombarded with unfiltered opinion on all sides, there are those who are astonishment that we Christians (and also Jews) can believe in a God whose people have done horrible things.

We need to understand that Scripture deals with the reality of life in a sinful world.  Yes, it includes instructions for living that pleases God. It also has honest descriptions of things that do not please God! Just because someone in the Bible has done something, it doesn't mean that we can or ought to do the same. We also read of times when God  is "mean" and judgmental. Yes, that is part of  reality as well.   I've heard people say "Look at what God did (or told His people to  do)--the victims couldn't have been THAT bad!"  My own take on that is that God knows more than we do--if He says that someone deserves judgment, that tells us that someone really was that bad! God takes evil seriously--and unrepented evil cannot  exist in His presence.

Looking at the convoluted history of the Jews and the Samaritans, the descendants of Jacob/Israel's twelve sons, we see that none of them totally lived up to God's instructions.  The temptation to get tangled up in the idol worship of the surrounding tribes and empires hit both the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Some of these idolatrous neighbors were worse than others, but the calling of Abraham's descendants was to be the demonstration of the Kingdom of God in contrast to this evil. In reading their stories, we are not supposed to do what they did, but to learn from what they did right (and were blessed) and what they did wrong (and were judged.) By the time of Jesus, both the surviving Judeans and the surviving Samaritans had kind of figured it out, with some differences that led to  mutual distrust.  What we see  is almost a paranoia about contamination; we see in the parable a priest and a Levite who quite possibly were more concerned by becoming "unclean" by getting involved with a stranger dying on the side of the road than reaching out to that stranger.  Jesus surprised His orthodox listeners, Bible scholars and professional "good people",  by making the Good Guy in the story someone who worshiped God in a different place, and whose ancestors had been harshly judged both by God and by their cousins.  

Just today I saw a "news" report of a popular TV preacher being accused of both moral lapses and financial irregularities.  Of course this brought out all sorts of folks throwing mud at God and everyone who "likes" Him.  What came to mind is Matthew 7:21-23; that says God is more concerned with what comes out of our heart than what comes out of our mouth.  Our calling is to find out what God says, and let that judge what a human being says. God will deal with judging other folks; we are ultimately responsible for what we say, what we do, and the example we set. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Use Your Own Brain:

If you have watched the news recently you are keenly aware of the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri.  I have no intention of making matters worse by adding my opinion.  The one thing I would like to challenge God's people with is the call to think their own thoughts.  It is tragic that our country is so polarized that the majority of people chose sides before the evidence is in.  If the cop is white he must be right.  If the suspect is black he must be right.  If the cop is white he must be wrong.  If the suspect is black he must be guilty.  People with no reasonable grasp of the facts have conclusions for which they will fight and die.  How sad. How prejudiced.
Sadly, it plays out every day on the evening news.  Votes in congress are almost always divided by party lines.  Civil rights issues separate according to color.  International debates divide by country and the middle East is split by religion.  We live in times where there is a very strong sense of us against them.  And we are always right, and they are most certainly wrong. 
Imagine if we could all put our isms aside and use our brains.  Imagine if all God's people weighed the objective evidence and drew intelligent, non emotional decisions.  Imagine if we were humble enough to say, I do not know.  Or, what do you think?  Imagine if we actually listened to one another, and heard one another.  Imagine a world where we made decisions after all the facts were in, and after we honestly dialogued the debate at hand.  Imagine a world where truth trumped position.
It is hard to combat prejudice.  It is hard to fight racism.  It helps if we are honest enough to admit that racism and prejudice come in all colors, castes, religions, and nationalities.  None of us is exempt.  So all of us should be open to learn.  
 May God bless us as we journey together,
Pastor Paul

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Who are the Samaritans?--by Linden Malki

What do you think of when you hear or read the term "Samaritan" ?  The power of Jesus' parable is shown by the image that comes into the mind of nearly everyone we know.   The parable itself tells us only two things about this person: he's the "good guy" in the story, and he belongs to a tribe of people who were despised by most Jews of Jesus' day.  So who are these people? 

Remember that Jacob, renamed Israel, had twelve sons who did not play well together. When the Israelites returning from  Egypt had crossed the Jordan River, entered the land and conquered Jericho and Ai,  Joshua gathered the people together in the center of the country and built an altar on Mt Ebal, near Shechem where Abraham had built an altar, and read the law to the people. This became the center of the tribal area of Ephraim, a half-tribe of Joseph, which became the dominant tribe in the northern part of the country. 

The first three kings (Saul, David and Solomon) ruled over a federation of all the tribes.  When Solomon's son Rehoboam ticked off the elders of the northern tribes, they formed a separate kingdom, with a capitol at Shechem.  Around 870BC, Omri, the probably the most powerful and prosperous of the Northern kings, built a new capitol city nearby, which he called Samaria.
 In 722BC, the Assyrian king invaded the land and conquered Samaria. They took many of the inhabitants of the northern kingdom and scattered them in other parts of the Assyrian empire, and brought outsiders from other parts of the empire into the area, and many shrines were built to foreign idols. The Assyrian authorities found an Israelite priest among their exiles and sent him back to Israel to placate the local God. The Assyrians also besieged Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah, but failed to take the city, thanks to a miraculous destruction of the besieging armies. 

The Samaritan priests did build temples to God, but did not deal with the pagan shrines. They had a copy of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, which describes the original Temple being at Mt Gerizim, across from Mt Ebal near Shechem. They also claim to be descendants of Joseph.      
In 572BC, the Babylonians had conquered Assyria, and they conquered the southern Kingdom. However, instead of scattering the inhabitants, they took the leading citizens of Jerusalem into captivity in Babylon. When the Persians conquered Babylon, they allowed many of the Judeans (now referred to as Jews) to return to rebuild Jerusalem. When Zerubbabel was rebuilding the temple, envoys from Samaria offered to help, but the Jews, did not trust them, considering the history between the two kingdoms, the prevalent idolatry of the north, the foreign admixture, the lack of orthodox genealogies, and their insistence on the primacy of the Mt Gerizim temple. So the Samaritans sent messages back to the Persian authorities claiming that the Jews were troublemakers and shouldn’t be allowed to rebuild. They got a cease and desist order that halted the construction until a new king came to power.

The city of Samaria was later  conquered by Alexander and destroyed; rebuilt as a Hellenistic and then Roman city. The surviving Samaritans took refuge in Shechem and Mt Gerizim and maintained their version of the traditional Israelite rituals, rejecting and being rejected by the Jews of Judea. Looking at Jesus’ personal interactions with Samaritans: (Luke 9, Luke 17, John 4, Acts 1, and then Acts 8) he refused to buy into the mutual paranoia that was pretty much universal in the day.

This is  one of the times when there are tough lines to draw: do you avoid people who might be a “bad influence” on you—and Scripture certainly shows a lot of examples of this; do you risk trying to be a “good influence “ on them, which is actually harder, because it can lead to arrogance which does not get what you intended; or do you ignore the bad stuff and risk being an enabler? 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Difference Does It Make? --Linden Malki

"Why does what you believe have anything to do with how I live my life?"  This is the gist of a poster that popped up online recently, and it's a very basic question. Yes, each of us is ultimately responsible for what we do--but much of that is a response to what other people have done. Sometimes it is obvious who and what caused the situation we face; sometimes it is the result of a lot of things done by many people over time. We all affect each other-and want to influence each other. .

Turn the question around: how does what you believe have to do with my life? What others believe about truth and honesty affect me every morning as I open two locks, an iron gate, and turn off my alarm system, before I can get into my store. And it isn't just "lowlifes" that make a difference. The scar has pretty well faded by now, but when I was a lot younger and helping with VBS back in Spokane, the son of the lead teacher in the room was doing a project on the floor with a pair of pointed scissors, which he jammed point down between the straps of my sandals into my foot. The mom was a nice, well-meaning lady, whose belief in her child had a blind spot. It affected me in another way--my mom was very adamant about my company manners partly, she said, because she didn't want people hiding behind the furniture if they saw our family walk up to their door--like they did when they saw the kid with the pointy scissors.

The connection between belief and behavior is a basic issue especially for those who claim to believe in God. A recent survey indicated that very few Americans --about 2%--identify themselves as "atheists", though spiritual and religious behavoir is trending downwards. What surprised the writer who quoted this was that the rise of opposition to religion is not found as often scientifically sophisticated subcultures as you'd expect--the correlation is much stronger with people issues, particularly with politics, including church politics. Think about it--people do respond more heatedly to political and economic corruption and irresponsibility, particularly by those who claim religious belief. We are seeing in today's world too many people who use religious excuses for political ambition and power-seeking. The relationship  between what people claim to believe and what they actually do has a tremendous influence in what people think about God.

The other side of this coin is the spiritual power of people whose beliefs and understanding of God's word does make a difference, not only in their own lives, but in the lives of others. The church has survived because of God-followers who have influenced an amazing number of others spread in both place and time. Yes, what I believe, and what I do about it,  does have an effect on you--and with the help of God,  it will lead you to want to know how God created you to live, not to reject what you see of God in me.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wycliffe's Downline--by Linden Malki

The history of the Church is studded with extraordinary people. One of the metaphors Jesus used for his followers was the Vine and its branches. The thing about vines is that they don't grow tall; they branch out and spread in amazing directions.

One twig on God's Vine was John Wycliffe, born in Yorkshire, England, in 1320. By 1376 he was a parish priest and a professor at Oxford University who was very concerned about the political and financial as well as spiritual corruption in the the monasteries and church establishment of his day. He was so  convinced of the fundamental  importance of the Scriptures, which were primarily available in Latin, that he and his students translated the entire Bible into the common English of his day--the ancestor of all later English Bibles. This got him in huge trouble with  the church officials, but he had powerful polical friends. His students and mentorees were known as Lollards, and not only did they spread Wycliffe's teaching and translations in England (often at great risk to themselves) but on the continent of Europe as well. Wycliffe's writings were translated into Czech by Jan Hus in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) who was also preaching about problems he saw in the established Church. Hus was officially excommunicated in 1409, and was called before a Church Council at Cologne. Germany, under a "safe conduct" granted by the King of Hungary and Germany. where he was tried and executed in 1415. This set off a rejection of the Roman Catholic church in Bohemia and Moravia, and several Hussite churches grew up; such as the "Unity of the Brethren", known as the Moravian Church, established in 1457, sixty years before Martin Luther. Their members were exiled and went underground by 1620, but they survived and still exist today, with congregations and missionaries around the world. The Moravians were a major influence in the early spiritual struggles of John and Charles Wesley in the 1730's. John Wesley went on to become a major preacher and evangelist in England and America, and his brother Charles, a great hymnwriter. They are the founders of the  Methodist movement, and  lifelong advocates of small groups.

I see a pattern here--three men, four hundred years apart. They were teachers and preachers who cared deeply about the Word of God and the condition of the Church. Wycliffe was influenced by a book by an Archbishop of his day on teachings of Paul and Augustine; Hus was influenced by the writings and followers of Wycliffe, Wesley was inspired by spiritual descendents of Hus at a pivotal point in his life and in turn has a lasting legacy of spiritual descendants. We see men who were not only students and teachers, but also touched by God as He shaped their lives and legacies.  And we owe the Bibles we have in our hands to one man centuries ago who dedicated his life to making the Word of God available in the language we read. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Interdependence--by Linden Malki

My dad always said that he'd never met someone he couldn't learn something from. We were created to learn from each other. Babies are born knowing nothing, but preprogrammed with the potential for their own unique personalities and talents. I'm becoming more convinced that we are created with potentials beyond our own abilities to handle. For good, for evil, for abilities of many kinds, we dependent on God and each other to grow toward what we are created to be. What is critical is the character of our teachers! If we have the right people available and submit to their teaching, we can do amazing things. If we encounter the wrong people and we do not recognize their limitations, or that they are what C.S. Lewis called "bent", we can become trouble.

I spent last weekend visiting family and also being part of a group involved with old British cars, especially Hillmans. (I don't have one at the moment, but have had several and know quite a lot about the vintage cars of this type.) We were part of a major car show near Seattle, visited a car museum in Tacoma, and went cruising outside Seattle through small towns on country roads. One of the fun things about this group is that some of the folks know a whole lot about these cars and are willing to answer questions and give advice, and everyone is willing to learn. Of course, when you've got cars averaging 50 years old, even if most are restored and in excellent condition, stuff happens. And when it does, you'll find hoods open with several heads inside and/or underneath, with major discussions as to what and why and how to fix it. And so far, nothing has had to be towed home.

In Scripture, God uses people to teach people. Moses listened to God, asked Him questions, listened to Jethro, and taught the people and especially Joshua. David had a whole series of mentors in his lifetime; he made mistakes and did some bad things but he confessed, asked forgiveness, and learned. God spent a millenium or so teaching these people to teach, and to learn--and sent Jesus into a period of history that was notable for learning--but still not everybody listened. Paul was constantly teaching and mentoring. And there is an incident in Peter's life that demonstrates that God teaches, and uses people to teach others. Peter was on a rooftop and had a vision--that included the message that what God made was good. At the same time, a Roman centurion was reaching out to God, and was told to send for Peter. So when Peter went to Cornelius, Peter taught him about Jesus--and Peter learned that this message was not only for Jews. We are created to learn to recognize truth, to learn from and teach those God has sent to us.